UPS Workers Push For Air-Conditioned Trucks, More Regulations on Heat Exposure

A new investigation reveals the tough conditions faced by delivery drivers, including 100-plus degree temperatures and a high rate of heat-related illnesses.

The growing pressure to deliver packages at a rapid rate is taking its toll on the people tasked with bringing your Amazon order to your door: delivery drivers.

In a new investigation published Thursday, NBC News explores the difficult situation faced by UPS drivers, the vast majority of whom are delivering packages in record hot temperatures without air conditioning in their trucks or loading facilities. Those conditions put workers at high risk of heat-related illnesses, a fact that is not lost on workers who are pushing for more oversight from OSHA.

Some UPS workers reported to NBC that the cargo areas of their trucks can reach 140 degrees or higher, recording temperatures as hot as 152 degrees. Since 2015, at least 107 UPS workers in 23 states have been hospitalized for heat-related illnesses, according to data compiled by the news outlet. The only employer with more incidents reported to OSHA is the U.S. Postal Service, which does not air-condition most of its trucks and has hundreds of thousands more employees than UPS.

Despite complaints from its workforce that conditions are getting worse with the boom of online shopping and hotter summers, UPS said it has no plans to air-condition the delivery trucks. Drivers also told NBC that they don’t feel comfortable complaining about the issues at the company because it offers one of the highest paying jobs in the country for people without college degrees.

Dr. David Michaels, the former OSHA head under President Barack Obama, said the number of hospitalizations was significant because it showed a heat hospitalization rate of about one in every thousand drivers.

“That’s a very high number and it translates into a very high risk,” Michaels said. “UPS is a multibillion-dollar company. They can figure out how to run profitably and still not expose their workers to a deadly hazard.”

Steve Gaut, the UPS vice president of public relations, told NBC: "While any incidents are too many, these incidents are not representative of the experience of employees in the company's broader workforce.” He added that the company trains workers on symptoms of heat illness and doesn’t air-condition vehicles because frequent stops and vehicle size would render air conditioning “ineffective.”

OSHA has limited oversight powers when it comes to heat exposure, as Congress and OSHA have never created standards and regulations for companies. The agency has, however, invoked the “general duty” clause—the one that guarantees employees a workplace free from hazards that could cause death or serious injury— against UPS for heat risks at least eight times since 2011, NBC reported. The company has been fined for heat violations in California and elsewhere in recent years.

The Teamsters, which represents UPS workers, is supporting legislation introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) that would require employers to give workers paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water and training on how to respond to heat illness. A petition movement to air-condition the trucks, started by the wife of a UPS worker, has also earned over 500,000 signatures.

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